Reimagining Juvenile Justice in Ohio

Posted July 11, 2022
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Two young black men sit in front of a bookcase, smiling at the camera.

Across Ohio, an approach called Reimag­in­ing Juve­nile Jus­tice (RJJ) is help­ing to divert more young peo­ple away from juve­nile deten­tion and incar­cer­a­tion and into com­mu­ni­ty-based respons­es. The approach is three pronged. It includes: 1) encour­ag­ing lis­ten­ing to and learn­ing from youth who have expe­ri­ence in the jus­tice sys­tem; 2) offer­ing them pos­i­tive oppor­tu­ni­ties as encour­age­ment when they reach pro­duc­tive mile­stones; and 3) col­lab­o­rat­ing across sys­tems more fre­quent­ly and creatively.

Thanks to RJJ, young peo­ple, fam­i­lies, com­mu­ni­ty groups, schools and police are work­ing togeth­er in new ways, accord­ing to Corey Shrieve, JDAI® coor­di­na­tor in Ohio’s Depart­ment of Youth Ser­vices. The coun­ty juve­nile jus­tice sys­tems are chang­ing the way they present cas­es in court,” says Shrieve.

They are using a pos­i­tive youth devel­op­ment approach to oth­er reform efforts, includ­ing divert­ing youth away from court when they’re at low risk of com­mit­ting new offens­es, trans­form­ing pro­ba­tion and employ­ing strate­gies to reduce racial and eth­nic dis­par­i­ties in youth incarceration.”

The RJJ cur­ricu­lum devel­op­ment and its train­ing insti­tutes are spon­sored by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion and deliv­ered by the non­prof­it School & Main Insti­tute. Ohio is one of 18 states and more than 35 juris­dic­tions cur­rent­ly imple­ment­ing this approach, which has reached more than 900 indi­vid­u­als through a train-the-train­er” model.

Chang­ing Mind­sets About Effec­tive Interventions

School & Main Insti­tute designed the RJJ cur­ricu­lum with the assis­tance of experts in the fields of youth work, child wel­fare and juve­nile jus­tice. The train­ing is root­ed in ado­les­cent devel­op­ment research, which indi­cates that young peo­ple respond well to a pos­i­tive envi­ron­ment and sup­port­ing, car­ing adults. The cur­ricu­lum encour­ages mem­bers of youth-serv­ing agen­cies — includ­ing juve­nile jus­tice pro­fes­sion­als — to look beyond the risks and chal­lenges and focus instead on a young person’s strengths.

Ohio sent train­ing pro­fes­sion­als from eight coun­ties (Ashtab­u­la, Cuya­hoga, Delaware, Fair­field Franklin, Lorain, Mont­gomery and Sum­mit) to nation­al train-the-train­er insti­tutes. These par­tic­i­pants — rep­re­sent­ing the state’s juve­nile jus­tice agency and juve­nile courts — learned the con­cepts and instruc­tion­al approach nec­es­sary to deliv­er RJJ locally.

A lot of this work involves chang­ing our part­ners’ philo­soph­i­cal mind­set about how kids should be treat­ed,” says Shrieve. It’s about shift­ing peo­ples’ beliefs from pun­ish­ment and com­pli­ance to pro­vid­ing pos­i­tive incen­tives that pro­mote the growth of young peo­ple. And we can see this change hap­pen­ing in pro­ba­tion and in the courts’ will­ing­ness to divert more kids than ever before.”

Progress on Juve­nile Jus­tice Reforms in Ohio

A sig­nif­i­cant accom­plish­ment for RJJ in Ohio is the part­ner­ship among the state juve­nile jus­tice agency, the Supreme Court of Ohio’s Advi­so­ry Com­mit­tee on Chil­dren & Fam­i­lies Sub­com­mit­tee on Juve­nile Jus­tice, the Office of the Ohio Pub­lic Defend­er and local­ly oper­at­ed juve­nile courts. Togeth­er, the part­ners cre­at­ed and issued a diver­sion tool kit for juve­nile courts, which uses the RJJ cur­ricu­lum to focus on pos­i­tive youth development.

The efforts in Ohio have also cre­at­ed cross-sec­tor part­ner­ships in Fair­field Coun­ty ded­i­cat­ed to address­ing tru­an­cy, which is a sta­tus offense often linked to under­ly­ing issues in school or at home. Col­lab­o­rat­ing with the Fam­i­ly, Adult and Chil­dren First Coun­cil — a pri­vate-pub­lic part­ner­ship com­mit­ted to improv­ing child and fam­i­ly well-being in the coun­ty — prac­ti­tion­ers have estab­lished a com­mu­ni­ty-based tru­an­cy pro­gram that inter­venes before the juve­nile court becomes involved. In addi­tion, Fair­field Coun­ty now hosts a round­table, giv­ing school and court offi­cials a ded­i­cat­ed chan­nel for dis­cussing and address­ing truancy.

State fund­ing sup­ports some RJJ imple­men­ta­tion efforts. For exam­ple, juve­nile courts serv­ing four coun­ties in Ohio — Ashtab­u­la, Delaware, Fair­field and Lorain — received two-year grants from the state. The fund­ing sup­ports com­mu­ni­ty col­lab­o­ra­tives that address the holis­tic needs of youth peo­ple and their fam­i­lies, help to divert youth from for­mal sys­tem involve­ment and pro­mote pos­i­tive oppor­tu­ni­ties that encour­age young peo­ple to grow.

Engag­ing Youth

In the coun­ties imple­ment­ing RJJ approach­es, youth with jus­tice sys­tem expe­ri­ence have — along with their fam­i­lies — helped pro­fes­sion­als think about their work in a dif­fer­ent way. For instance: One young woman recalled hav­ing four dif­fer­ent coun­sel­ing appoint­ments with three dif­fer­ent coun­selors each week.

You could see everybody’s head spin because every­body in that room worked with this kid,” Shrieve recalls. They were look­ing at each oth­er like, how did this hap­pen? And it was a great oppor­tu­ni­ty to ask, what are we doing to realign our prac­tices to bet­ter serve kids?”

Youth with jus­tice sys­tem expe­ri­ence have also helped under­score the impor­tance of pro­mot­ing pos­i­tive behav­ior, such as offer­ing incen­tives when young peo­ple on pro­ba­tion con­sis­tent­ly come home on time. The incen­tive doesn’t have to be a thing,” says Shrieve. It could be an event. Some­times kids don’t want stuff; they want experiences.”

Ohio is show­ing how juve­nile jus­tice sys­tems — work­ing with oth­er agency, com­mu­ni­ty and youth part­ners — can look at young peo­ple in a dif­fer­ent way, focus­ing on their assets and strengths, rather than sim­ply attempt­ing to address their per­ceived deficits,” says David E. Brown, senior asso­ciate in the Foundation’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group.

Next Steps for RJJ

Juris­dic­tions have until July 22, 2022, to apply for the next RJJ Train­ing-for-Train­ers Insti­tute.

The RJJ cur­ricu­lum mod­ules will also be made avail­able in an e‑learning for­mat this year.

Read Fre­quent­ly Asked Ques­tions about the 2022 RJJ Train­ing-for-Train­ers Institute

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